Geography & Wildlife

A rather misleading desert

Accounting for around four-fifths of the country, the sandveld of the Kalahari Desert dominates Botswana.



In this video… a youth leader at the SOS Children’s Village talks about the uses of trees.

The term ‘desert’ is a little misleading, because the region has its own vegetation – thorn and scrub bushes, trees and grasses.

Various species of trees, such as Acacias and Terminalias, thrive across the dry regions. In the north, there are areas of miombo woodland.

Though there are some sand dunes in parts of the arid southwest, much of the landscape is characterised by dry steppe and the region is more accurately described as “thirstland”.

The great salt pans

The sandveld contains a number of pans (shallow depressions). These fill up during the rainy season and provide an important source of water for wildlife.

The great salt pans of the Kalahari, such as the Makgadikgadi Pans, were once ancient lakes. They dried up long ago to form vast areas of hard flat land.

A wildlife hotspot

Boating through the swamps

One of the best ways to view the flora and fauna of the Delta’s wetlands is by sitting in a mokoro, a canoe which easily negotiates the swamps and narrow channels.

The ancient lake of Okavango is now the huge wetland area of the Okavango Delta, containing around 95% of Botswana’s surface water. Rich in wildlife, large parts of the delta are protected within the Moremi Game Reserve.

The most commonly sighted mammals are hippopotamus. But the delta is also home to many rare species such as the sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii), a splay-footed swamp antelope.Slaty egret by Quetzal1964 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

With its undisturbed natural habitats, Botswana is home to over 550 species of birds. The Okavango Delta is a particularly rich bird habitat, home to a wide array of jacanas, bee-eaters, snakebirds, storks, egrets, kingfishers, hornbills and herons. Rare birds here include the wattled crane (Bugeranus carunculatus) and the slaty egret (Egretta vinaceigula) – shown in the photo .

Many of these birds feed on fish, small amphibians and reptiles. One of the main sounds of the Delta is the numerous frogs croaking throughout the reeds. The swamps and lagoons are also home to larger and more dangerous reptiles, such as the Nile crocodile and the carnivorous Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus).